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There Are No Such Things as ‘Average’ Cloud Users

A federal cloud computing expert says that agencies should stop trying to make the technology meet the needs of their “average” employee.

Andrew Marquardt, the Chief Enterprise Architect at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), adds that agencies should instead focus on making their clouds satisfy as many unique concerns as possible for their workers.

“Stop designing for average users,” Marquardt said Tuesday at a Symantec luncheon in Washington, D.C. “They don’t exist. You don’t have an average user. That’s a myth.”

Symantec is a cybersecurity software and solutions provider. Tuesday’s event was part of Symantec’s Smart Government: Cyber Redefined Lunch series. The event was titled “Navigating the Government Cloud Security Voyage.”

USBR, meanwhile, oversees water resource management, particularly irrigation, hydroelectric power generation and water supplies. Marquardt noted that his agency’s unusual role has impacted how it uses cloud.

“We had to tailor lots of our solutions for inspections in low-bandwidth situations,” he said. “Who’s really using this stuff and how are they doing it? Design for your absolute fringes. Those marginalized communities are really where you need to be doing the work.”

As an example, Marquardt cited USBR inspectors who trek through remote, icy regions on snowshoes examining water supplies. USBR operates extensively in the West, meaning many of its inspectors work in sparsely populated areas with disruptive weather.

“You’re really talking about an opportunity for cultural transformation in your organization,” he said of cloud. “The way you do business is really going to change. We’ve seen tremendous efficiencies come up [using cloud].”

Marquardt said that adopting cloud taught USBR to carefully consider how it designs each app residing there. Rather than migrating all its legacy apps to cloud, he continued, USBR has instead recreated each one as needed there. He concluded that USBR’s design process helped the agency balance user accessibility and safety.

“It’s the tension between security and usability,” he said. “There’s a lot of apprehension to be able to choose. It’s a tough decision. The reality is that you can have both.”

According to Marquardt, USBR also learned that it doesn’t need to fully adopt cloud all at once. He added that USBR has gradually abandoned legacy IT as more of its services become cloud-ready.

“It’s fits, stages, starts, stops and redirections,” he said. “Over the last two or three years, we realized we have time for our adoption. We took time to understand the truly transformative power of the cloud.”

Marquardt added that federal agencies should realize that cloud isn’t the best fit for all their IT assets. For instance, he said that critical national infrastructure would never become cloud-based.

“That stuff is never going into the cloud,” he said. National critical infrastructure includes systems such as power grids whose continued operations are required for U.S. economic, national and public health security. “That stuff just exists where it exists.”

Marquardt’s remarks follow the release of the federal government’s latest cloud computing strategy in 2018. Titled Cloud Smart, it gave agencies guidance on how to approach their procurement, security and workforces during cloud adoption.

Many experts recommend that agencies prepare their workforces for cloud adoption so that they reap most of the technology’s benefits.

Cloud’s consistency, flexibility and security as a platform for data has made it an increasingly popular technology for federal computing.

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